by Matt Roberson · December 15, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #30: Matt Roberson comments on A Christmas Story: The Musical at Madison Square Garden Taking a movie as loved as A Christmas Story and trying to morph it into something else is asking for trouble. Not that success is impossible.
Broadway's Lion King, and more recently Matilda the Musical, are adaptations that stand tall on their own. But they are the exceptions, and part of a special group that the glossy and emotionally disconnected A Christmas Story: the Musical is far from joining.
The film version came out in 1983, and since then it has become a part of the holiday tradition for many families. It is filled with several inconic moments and memorble gags - the bunny suit, the leg lamp, Ralphie's flights of fancy - that must be included in any adaptation. But at its core, the film endures because of its loving depiction of an overextended, but deeply connected, family trying to balance the holiday season against the demands of raising children. The other bits are funny, but alone, aren't enough to keep people like myself coming back year after year.
Unfortunately, this musical adaptation chooses to focus on the less emotionally moving parts of the source material. Ralphie's dream, for instance, of using his new pellet gun to defend against bandits, is a minor part of the film but here, gets what seems like twenty minutes of song and dance. In Act II, Ralphie's teacher Miss Sheilds gets a similar over-blown number called "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," which felt more like a segment for America's Got Talent than a necessary element to this show's story.
Certainly the talent is here to pull off a more emotionally interesting show. As Ralphie's parents, Noah Baird and Erin Dilly are very good, especially in the quieter moments. Watching the kids tear through presents on Christmas morning, or when Dilly is stuffing Randy (Noah Baird) into a snow suit, we experience the same warmth and chemistry that is present in the film. Dilly also does a memorable job with her solo "What a Mother Does," one of the few songs that add something to the source material. As Ralphie, young Jake Lucas is given a very big role, which he handles with sincerity and great presence.
In the "star role," narrator Dan Lauria is fine, but unnecessary. In the film, this role remains an unseen voice, allowing the action to continue while he speaks. On stage though, Lauria is always present, and when he speaks, the onstage action stops, causing a stop-and-go that kills this play's momentum. It would be a risk to do away with this role, but probably one worth taking.
Though no fault of this show, The Theatre at Madison Square Garden is a terrible place to stage a production. Even twenty rows back is too far to see clearly, and hawkers selling popcorn and cotton candy at intermission is not a good idea. The space also smothers the colorful, creative designs of Walt Spangler (set) and Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costume), which get overwhelmed by the massive stage and hideous "winter wonderland" cut outs dominating the proscenium.
For families with holiday cash to burn and a need to get out of the house, maybe A Christmas Story the Musical is worth a try. But if you like good musicals, or want to see an interesting and bold adaptation, here is what I suggest: stay in, order the famous "leg lamp" on Amazon, and round up the family for a viewing of the far-superior A Christmas Story movie.
Whichever path you take, I hope it offers you and yours a safe, happy, and memorable holiday season.